On the Purpose of Aridity in the Spiritual Life

060315None of us who commit to prayer and the spiritual life enjoy those periods during which prayer, liturgy, or spiritual reading seem dry or dull. But such moments are necessary—or so it would seem—for God permits them. If something were always pleasant, we would not be sure if we loved God or merely the pleasantries. An old saying asks if we love the consolations of God or the God of all consolation. It is the dry and difficult times that help us to determine the answer.

There are other reasons for dryness or “aridity” and they are well stated by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange:

We must allow ourselves to be led by the path which our Lord has chosen for us. There is, to be sure, the common and indispensable way, that of humility and conformity to the divine will.

But on this common road, one part is shaded, the other has nothing to protect it from the burning rays of the sun; one section is flat, followed by long steep hills that lead to high plateaus where we may enjoy a marvelous view. The good shepherd leads his sheep as he judges best.

He leaves certain souls for a rather long time in difficulties in order to inure them to the struggle … [But] if aridity is prolonged we should [determine] that it does not spring from lukewarmness, provided that we have no taste for the things of the world but rather concern for our spiritual progress.

Aridity [in this case] … is very useful, like fire that must dry out the wood before setting it ablaze. Aridity is needed precisely to dry up our too lively, too impetuous, exuberant, and tumultuous sensibility, so that finally, the sensible appetites may be quieted and may become submissive to the spirit (Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Vol. 1, Tan Publications, pp. 459-60).

Yes, indeed, in overstimulated times like these, our passions and senses are “off the chain” if something does not help to moderate them and limit their ever-growing demands for something newer, brighter, glitzier, and more exciting. In this case, “aridity” can help us to slow down to the pace of life that God has intended for us. A little silence, a little waiting, and little experience of the passing quality of earthly thrills is good for the soul. It is the parched soul that best appreciates water.

24 Replies to “On the Purpose of Aridity in the Spiritual Life”

  1. “Jesus saith to him: Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed.” John 20:29

    Msgr. Pope has eloquently shared the efficiency of “aridity” to discipline, purify, and bring order to the passions and senses. 

    There are three ordinary causes of prolonged aridity. One is psychological or clinical depression. The second is willful spiritual laxity or lukewarmness. The third is produced by Supernatural Grace in the soul, first in the senses, then in the spirit in order to purify the soul and prepare it for a deeper and more intimate experience of it’s Creator.

    In the case of darkness (aridity) as an expressed act of God Himself, the principal and foundational purpose is to call the soul and begin a journey to union in Love with Him through FAITH. Thus, the blessed life with God is achieved, not through the “senses”, how it feels, sees or by touch. It is only by a “knowing” by naked, dark faith, supported by an intellectual assent and led by grace. As St. John of the Cross says, the soul travels “in darkness and secure.”

    Throught Scriptures, Jesus consistently challenges those around Him to express their faith or belief in Him, not just by how they feel about Him. It is a wonderful thing if our intellectual belief in Jesus produces great feelings of peace and joy, but joy is accidental and can never replace even the simplest of Faith in the eyes of Almighty God. 

    To accurately discern the true cause of aridity, whether spiritual or natural, one should speak with a learned and experienced spiritual director or priest/confessor.

    1. Thank you Brother Gabriel, for expanding a little on the topic.

      In my own experience, aridity isn’t so bad when things are going well. It’s when things take a turn for the worse in our daily life that we can begin to feel a flagging spirit, maybe a sense abandonment and aloneness, and can even think God has left us to our own devices! We’re like the guy trying to do 100 reps of a 100 lbs. of weight – at some point tired and feeling we can’t just can’t do another one, and struggling to complete the task; or the marathoner at the 20th mile – very tired and finding continuing difficult, struggling to find strength somewhere within to persevere.

      Sometimes, at these times, I get the image of myself as a rock climber trying to scale a sheer wall with very little to hang onto and very scanty footholds – too high up to retreat, too far from the top to feel confident about making it, tired, and realizing I have to keep going. It’s almost a “just do it (prayer)” moment.

      I’m sure it’s a good sign to have these times with Our Lord. Just knowing it is a test of Faith helps to endure.

      It does help to have skilled and knowledgeable guides to help instruct one on the way, so thank you.

  2. Thank you for making the case for aridity, as I never really got it before. I guess it benefits you in that your zeal does not become pride, like the Pharisees of old. I needed the perspective. Thanks.

  3. its been almost 5 years for me. I finally found a spiritual director. we start in July.
    ever since I started working a swing shift, my spirituality has dropped. I cannot get into a rhythm anymore. I would say a rosary everyday. not anymore. I cannot go to Mass every weekend because I work 12 hrs on the 2 weekends I work. the only constant is monthly confession.
    quit? I have 3 kids. I am the only income. find a different job in this economy is much easier said than done.
    I’m 51. not going to get hired anywhere else.
    its been bad. I have read St. John of the Cross about 6 times in the last year.
    the family as a whole is being tested. I expected it but would much rather be talking about how we got through it than being in it.
    trying to accept the cross but am wearing down.

    1. Tony,
      I’m in the same boat and there are so many of us on this ship. We haven’t gotten off at the last port or jumped overboard because we know we must stay aboard at all costs. You and I are not alone though it may seem so most the time (divide and conquer) or suddenly feel there’s no time, want, need to say a rosary (separate us from the love of the Mother of God) and so many other things. I don’t think we are being tested, I think we are being hammered and a little healthy anger at the evil one is in order. Seems to have me second guessing myself half the time and thinking it’s me the other half when it’s neither.

      Good priest told me once to do the things we do. We work and pray as Catholics just like we pay the bills at the end of the month and drive on the right side of the road. We can do this, so kindly say a prayer for this struggling stranger and I’ll say prayers for you. That way after I post this and fall flat on my face the getting up will be a little easier and I’m not getting off the ship. Just call a priest and get a dispensation for your working Sundays. You are doing exactly what God wants taking care of those kids and blessed to have a job these days

    2. You can get to Mass. Fulfill your obligation. You may be very tired but even the Apostles fell asleep in the Garden prior to Our Lord’s execution.

  4. When I am still sitting in the adoration room when He seemed missing, I know He is there and wait for the set alarm.

  5. My priest once told me to “fake it until you make it”, which is not really faking at all, just another way of getting out of the slump, because those times are painful.

    1. Shakespeare said it better : “Assume a virtue if you have it not.”

  6. I have gone through many years of aridity yet know it is important to continue doing prayers and going to Adoration, etc., as usual. One of the best books I bought in the 1970s and still will reread when feeling low is Fr. Thomas Green’s book, “When the Well Runs Dry.” It has uplifted me so many times from desolation. I agree with what he says about this dark dryness as being Purgatory. He confirmed to me what I had concluded some time before. I’m 69 now and have had beautiful experiences with the Lord in the past that of course I miss immensely. Still, I know He is quietly there within keeping watch over me. Once in a while I’ll find a day where I’m wrapped in a strong peace because of Him. It is comforting to get those special moments when enduring aridity for long periods of time. I think the important thing is not to focus so much on what WE get or feel from God, but on giving our utmost attention to loving Him. I agree, Brother Gabriel, that we need firmly know and express our faith and belief in Him, but I also over the years have come to deeply love Him in my heart and soul. I believe in not just having head knowledge about Jesus but that it reach the heart. The more one loves, the more one forgets himself and wants to give to the beloved. Does the Lord want to be loved by his people? Yes! This can be through Adoration, Mass every day, fasting, praise, prayer, and speaking of your love for Him. It can be in spending time on Christmas Day to go back to church and stay an hour or so with Him on his birthday. I’ll never forget one such Christmas years ago when everyone rushed out of church after Mass, leaving papers and missals strewn about. The lights went off hurriedly as the priest made his exit. The glass door slowly clunked shut after him. Oh, the silence became deafening! The church was now darkened and the Lord would have no one with Him on his birthday and how many would think of Him on their get-togethers at home? Only the sanctuary light beside him would keep Him company once I left. Never did I want that to happen again. I’d go back each year and read from what I had compiled of songs, Nativity passages, the Joyful Mysteries, Divine Praises, etc., to do. I also had my special way of “wrapping” my present to Jesus. Several friends joined me at 4:00 and after our recital of the above we offered our “presents” to Jesus consisting of plain note paper rolled and bow-tied with baby blue ribbon curled at the ends, to place in a little bowl before Jesus’ crib in the creche. Those gifts to Jesus were what we would offer to do for the upcoming year. I know this may sound overly sentimental but I don’t care. Love knows no bounds.

    1. I had read Teresa of Avila’s Autobiography until it got to the water part.I couldn’t understand what she was talking about. Then I read When the Well Runs Dry and finally understood what she was trying to say. That is truly one helpful book.

  7. I am right now experience aridity, but honestly speaking, since I am well aware of it, through loads of spiritual readings, and also the fact that I’ve been nearly ten years, in this holy life, I am not actually annoyed, in fact I am patiently living it for the love of Christ!

    Also I have and am experiencing, what St Teresa made clear that when God takes, he gives something else in return, and that’s what I am receiving, believe it or not, which is wisdom related to the mysteries of God!

    In fact a couple of days ago, it was really that bad, that I was about to quit, but experience, faith, and most of all love for God, kept me persevere, and when I finished I felt joy within me! Then while reading some scriptures, mystical writings, and remained recollected during the day, I discerned amazing things of God, through which tears pours down and interior joy could never be stopped!

    So I would suggest remain in full faith, and simply accept this fruitful process, since it is coming from God, and it is eventually, although still a mystery, to get us closer and in union with The Lord!

    1. once I cut off movies music and the internet I went thourgh harcore dryness but afther reading the desert father by peguine it seems to disapper I just open it and strart reading and it disappears this is the only book I find comfort in everything seems dry except this book it tshows sampels how to get thourgh drynesss how they dealt with boredness dryness and suffering also tune in to tradcatknight radio on youtube pefect spirtal talks God bless

  8. After years of aridity, I find just listening to the silence eventually bring a certain kind of peace and contentment that is supportive of the struggle

  9. Here’s my take on this. I am very serious and not joking.
    The only way to get rid of serious dryness is this: quit focusing on your aridity. At 51 years old I have learned a few stupid things and this is one of them. If your prayer is all about your goody too shoes I am here, then you are not there.
    One word: surrender and just sit there shut up and stop worrying. If you really know you are no longer worrying then you have surrendered and don’t focus on the JUNK IN THE MEDIA AND WHAT YOU think you should be doing.
    O yeah, breathe in and breathe out. Let God literally in your heart have your breath.
    It is not all about you. Get your sense of humor back and you will more than likely quit the dryness — sometimes or eventually.
    Too often we worry way too much about junk. God is BIGGER. YOU ARE NOT. REMEMBER THAT.
    BE SIMPLE AND KNOW THAT HE LOVES YOU. OTHERWISE, you are talking to yourself and your own worry list.

  10. How are we to deal with aridity if it arises from depression or anxiety stemming from illness? If someone takes medication to deal with either condition, yet still is facing aridity, what should they do? How does someone balance maintaining a prayer life and dealing with scrupulosity or the mental exhaustion of saying x amount of prayers (a set number of rosaries, etc)? Just curious if anyone has any insights to share.

  11. I was ALWAYS TAUGHT THERE IS TOO MUCH FOCUS on what you think you should be doing … instead of just breathing in God and that’s how you allow God to focus on you while you focus on Him by focusing on allowing HIM.

  12. Thank you Msgr for saying it so eloquently,” to dry out the wood before it is set ablaze!” I never thought if it like that! To the dear brother Tony R…I am 61 now…can’t believe it. I remember years ago my husband was the sole provider (actually Jesus was/IS our source) We were downsized and moved about every 3 years. We were a homeschool family of 4. There were days when the most “spirituality” was placing my forehead on the Sacred Heart prayer on our refrigerator. I cannot imagine what it must be like for you to miss the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. God hears the groanings of one’s heart…deeper than we can ever imagine. Tonight is Friday June 5th, my husband and I will bring you before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. It doesn’t matter how dry, how many times we fall, we “slug it out”, if you will. It, our Holy Faith is not determined by our feelings. I know the Church Militant is not a term we use often enough BUT that is who we are…Ask a soldier how they feel about getting up and following orders. I know that sometimes our j-o-b-s are the testing ground, the prayer itself…I never expected that I would be carrying the family with my job BUT it IS where God has me and it’s pretty DRY out here! May God bless and keep those who struggle with aridity, you are not alone. Through Jesus and Mary

  13. Ms. Donna as we say here in the good ol’ south and Florida…
    Can you surrender? That doesn’t mean you don’t do God’s will, you just don’t worry about slugging it, you know that God really and truly loves you. It is not about the X amount of rosaries and all. That’s what we do and most of us can read it and be simple and then ask God to just take what we just did and well, it is going to have to be good enough.

    You don’t have to take abuse about the job thing. Just a little jayyya uhhhb way of saying it is abuse. Uh, the parable of the talents comes to mind. Use your talents. I went back to school and got a Master’s at 42 years old and hopefully, I get to go further. This is part of the surrender to God. No worry.

    When you are there before Jesus, just take a deep breath and just be. Don’t try to prove anything. That homeschooling thing is a dead give away about trying to prove junk.

    Three cheers for Mr. Joseph and all that you wrote here! You deserve a weekend at a cold Florida spring that takes off the 90 degree heat here. Love that what you wrote

  14. Something that struck me as I was thinking about this was that this may very well be a just punishment for all the years I abandoned Him. He spent 30 years standing at the door knocking
    While I didn’t have the time of day for Him. It can also be Him sharing His Passion with us when He said “I thirst.” He thirsts for the souls of the people in our lives and maybe this is a reminder to us to bring them to Him in prayer.

  15. Joseph, 

    Speaking in a very general manner, ones entire approach to prayer, when experiencing aridity caused by depression or anxiety stemming from illness, must evolve and adapt to a new set of natural and supernatural realities. 

    Clearly, for many who are challenged in this way, clinging to a prior, rigid regimen of vocal prayers is counterproductive and well almost certainly create even greater mental discord and spiritual disquiet.

    In times like these, we should take the focus off of ourselves and our particular prayer practices and processes and turn our eyes to Christ Crucified. It is in understanding the mystery of redemptive suffering that we find the answer in how to pray in times of illness. How exactly? To unite ourselves with our suffering Jesus on the Cross, being lovingly submissive to the Father by accepting our own cross of illness and aridity. Using Jesus as our example, with the help of grace, we suffer quietly, until the very end. No matter how abandoned or alone we may sometimes feel, like out Savior, we remain faithful.

    “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  Matt. 26:46

    Offering to God our suffering, aridity or darkness, then, becomes “love in action”, a willing oblation to Him. A single moment of humble acceptance of suffering, for the love of God, is worth a lifetime of vocal prayer, lofty thoughts, the deepest sensible feelings or the highest of ecstasy. 

  16. Thanks Msgr.

    I really needed to hear that just now. The question posed “Do we love the consolations of God or the God of consolations?” is one that brings me back to a proper orientation of my spiritual life. As a deacon candidate, it is always good to be reminded of who our focus should always be on and let everything else flow from there.

    3. WE can be ourselves because God knows who we are.
    4. Having God there is a consolation.

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